The social scientists who were/are involved in this research on Indian Diaspora are not writing the truth. They were hiding much more than what they are revealing: Dr. Vivek Kumar

The Diasporic scholars analyzed the migration in terms of economic aspects of migrants but they never tried to look at social back ground of migrants…they never looked at social structure in Diaspora. Nobody tried to enquire about the caste identity of migrants, says Dr. Vivek Kumar in an interaction with Dr. Mahalingam. M., Editor of Roots and Routes.                                                                                                   

Mahalingam. M.: What has motivated you to look at Diaspora in caste perspective?

Vivek Kumar: I did not do a formal course in Diaspora but I began understanding Diasporas as I entered the discipline of sociology. The social scientists who were/are involved  in this research  on Indian Diaspora  are not writing the truth. They were hiding much more than what they are revealing. The whole exercise was away from objective and empirical reality. For instance, they were trying to project Indian Diaspora as monolithic whole without any differentiality.   As student of sociology, we all have been reading migration during colonialism. It is a documented fact that most of lower castes migrated out of the country due to poverty and social inequality in big numbers. However, the diasporic scholars analyzed the migration in terms of economic aspects of migrants but they never tried to look at social back ground of migrants. Further, they never looked at social structure in Diaspora. Nobody tried to enquire about the caste identity of migrants. One can find studies on regional back ground of migrants. Moreover, caste aspect was not touched upon. Therefore, I started analyzing Indian Diaspora through caste perspective.  As we are all aware that when migrants migrate, they do not migrate only as biological souls, they migrate with social-cultural baggage. Caste has been part of their cultural baggage and has been taken into Diaspora. By chance, when I visited South Africa, I got first hand information on the existence of caste identity among Gujarathis and South Indians. The existence of separate religious places like Valmiki temple, Ravidasias  and Buddhist Vihars  prove the  prevalence of caste in Diaspora. To inquire migration via caste perspective, the researcher’s location in social structure helps him to collate data. My location helped me to locate people who are living in North America, Canada and U.K. I did research in Southall and in U.S.A in 2012 as Full BrightTeacher Fellow in 2013, I happened to visit Germany and Spain, during the visit, I started investigating caste dimension in IndianDiaspora too. Dalits can be called as Diaspora as they have long migration history,India has been their cultural reference point and they were persecuted minority in Indian social structure.

Mahalingam. M.:  What is the socio-economic status of Dalits in Diaspora?

Vivek Kumar: There are different layers in terms of their socio-economic status. During colonial era, they were illiterate migrants controlled by indenture system, they could not make much head way.Later, as semi-literate migrants, they joined as workers in factories and could succeed in their profession. Some of them went on scholarship to study in Europe, U.S.A and UK ,  they settled well and emerged as successful professionals in their respective fields. During globalization, most of them went to work  VISA in the information and communication technology sectors. So, one could find taxi drivers, hoteliers, scientists, engineers and businessmen. Some of them run chit funds and gas stations. Over all, they  enjoy far better economic and social status than in the home land.

Mahalingam. M.:  Could you briefly describe about social solidarity  among Dalits in Diaspora?

Vivek Kumar: Common symbols have been propagated and established in Diaspora. For instance, you have a bust of Ambedkar in the University of London, London School of Economics, San Fraser University of Canada and Columbia university where they come together to celebrate the  Ambedkar Jayanthi. They assemble for various meetings, conferences, symposia and discussions on Ambedkar and Buddha birth and death anniversary. They have recently opened   ‘Ambedkar International Centre’ in Washington D.C. One can find various activities revolving around Ambedkar and Buddha to express their social solidarity. They have established number of social, cultural and religious centres for organizing their community

Mahalingam. M.: What are the efforts and strategies of Dalit Diaspora to fight  against  Caste discrimination?

Vivek Kumar: Taking the example of UK, they formed  Society like Caste Watch UK, International Dalit Social Net Work, Voice of Dalit International, Federation  of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organization and so on. These organizations have been a platform for airing out their grievances and concerns to the larger world. They act as lobby groups and will take the issues to different caucuses. They have been very active to connect with various other local movements for safeguarding their interests.

Mahalingam M.: May I know the  contribution of Dalit Diaspora to Dalit assertion movements in India?

Vivek Kumar: There were many individual contributions. For example RambabuGautham used to give one thousand dollar cheque for various causes. Benjamin Kaila gives away Ambedkar fellowship. Ambedkar International Mission has instituted many awards for Dalits in different areas to motivate Dalits in India. Number of Dalits have contributed for building Buddha Viharas  inMaharastra , Tamil Nadu and very recently in UP. They have started  making network to help  those people those who arrive in U.S.A. In many of the states, the Dalit political parties receive funds from Diaspora. They have represented and articulated grievances of Indian  Dalits in many of the meetings, caucus  and human rights bodies.

Mahalingam. M.: Is Dalit Movement international in nature?

Vivek Kumar: There are different kinds of movements. Some of them are local or some are national and some are international. For instance, Ambedkar International Mission has a dozen chapters. They have branches in Canada, Malaysia, United Kingdom and so on. They are trying to network with black movements and other movements of marginalized and neglected all over the world. They sent delegation to world forums like UNO, Asia Social Forum, World Social Forum and so on.

Mahalingam. M.:  A section of the Dalit intellectuals view caste as race, where as the government of India refuses to accept this assertion, particularly in view of International ramifications. What is your point of view on this case?

Vivek Kumar: Race is deconstructed as social category, it is no longer a biological category. You construct certain criteria and characteristics and  label  a particular group of  people with  that  characteristics. For instance, White race has been associated with enterprising, intelligent etc., on the other hand, black race has been associated with violent out going, barbarians etc., If you compare caste and race, caste exclusion and suppression goes beyond the racial expulsion. It is much more intense. In caste, there is no commitment to lower strata. They have been denied basic rights. You cannot produce Uncle Tom. The hegemony is gripping in the caste. But, it is not so in the race. The intellectuals perceive that caste suppression, exclusion and exploitationare akin to racial discrimination. However, caste is much more heinous. Caste is social and ideological construct. So is the race. According to me, it is not similar.

Mahalingam. M.:  Diaspora has always been grabbling with the question of longing and belonging to home land.  What kind of orientation does Dalit Diaspora have towards homeland as they face discrimination and social inequality?

Vivek Kumar: They share relations with homeland. The old Dalit Diaspora identify with homeland through Buddha and Ambedkar. The  new Diaspora  has relatives, families,parents alma mater  and so on. They do not want to cut umbilical chord with  their homeland. Although they  keep on listening horrendous stories about stigmatization  and discrimination  of Dalits in India. However, their cultural reference point is India.

Mahalingam. M.:  Caste Watch UK has been in the news recently. What are their functions and efforts for the cause of Dalit Diaspora?

Vivek Kumar: They have been taking various efforts to redress the concerns of Dalits in UK. Most important of all, they collected evidences about caste discrimination. They have networked with different organizations to fight for social justice in UK. They have organized cricket matchor social solidarity lunch and dinner for creating awareness among Dalits in UK. They have organized conferences, round tables and discussions. I have participated in atleast in two such conferences.

Mahalingam. M.:  Could you tell something about  the scholarship on Dalit Diaspora?

Vivek Kumar: There is only one book about ‘Pioneers of Ambedkarite movement in Uk’. There are a few articles as well. Much work has to be done in these areas as Dalit migration is increasing. Except me and Paramjit Judge, no one has done any field work among Dalits in Diaspora.

Mahalingam. M:  Dalit literature is gaining ground in India. Could you tell me about Dalit literature from Disapora?

Vivek Kumar: Literature is a bourgeoisie exercise. Dalits are still struggling.  They run news papers, periodicals and so on. There is no such thing called Diasporic Dalit literature. During indenture migration, their pain and agony have come out as anthologies but it is not with label called  Dalit literature.

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Dr. Vivek Kumar is Associate Professor at Centre for the Study of Social Systems, his research interest includes Methodology of Social Sciences, Sociology of Marginalized Sections and Sociology of Indian Diaspora, He may be emailed at vivekambedkar@yahoo.com

Dr. M. Mahalingam is a Research Fellow, Centre For Policy Analysis, New Delhi. Email: lingabharathi@gmail.com



Interview Date:   Tuesday, Aug 20, 2013
Person Name:   Dr. Vivek Kumar

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